The GOP-led Florida state House is set on Wednesday to give final passage to a bill that aims to change election laws in the Sunshine State, including creating an election police force – a proposal championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Here’s what you need to know about the legislation:
What is in it?
The most controversial part of the bill is related to a provision that would create the Office of Election Crimes and Security under the Florida Department of State. The office would be able to initiate independent inquiries and conduct preliminary investigations “into allegations of election law violations or election irregularities in this state.”
The office would, according to the bill, employ election investigators, who would not be sworn officers of the law. Additionally, the office would be required to file a yearly report to the governor and state legislature with detailed information on the number of complaints that were received, independent investigations initiated and complaints referred to another agency for further investigation or prosecution.
The measure would ban ranked-choice voting for local elections and require elections officials to update voter rolls every year. The bill also would increase misdemeanor violations to felonies for collecting more than one vote-by-mail ballot.
One section of the bill would increase the cap on fines for certain violations by third-party registration organizations from $1,000 to $50,000. The legislation also would fine anyone who makes alterations to a voter registration application $1,000 – a provision added after some voters in Miami say they were duped into changing their party affiliations.
An earlier version of the bill looked to increase identification requirements for voting by mail by requiring voters to provide either the last four digits of their driver’s license or Social Security numbers on submitted ballots. Now the bill directs the secretary of state to study the “feasibility, development, and implementation” of such a requirement. Voters already have to include identifying information on the application for vote by mail.
Who proposed the bill?
DeSantis announced the proposal for an election police force in November, as supporters of Donald Trump pushed to investigate the former President’s lies about election fraud.
“To ensure that elections are conducted in accordance with the rule of law, I have proposed an election integrity unit whose sole focus will be the enforcement of Florida’s election laws. This will facilitate the faithful enforcement of election laws and will provide Floridians with the confidence that their vote will count,” DeSantis then said during his State of the State address in January.
The proposal was included in Republican state Sen. Travis Hutson’s voting overhaul bill introduced last month.
“Confidence in the integrity of our elections is essential to maintaining a democratic form of government,” Hutson said. He had played a critical role in the passage of SB 90 – which was signed into law by DeSantis in May 2021 and instituted many of the mail-in voting restrictions currently in place – by being the Republican lawmaker to answer all questions related to the bill on the Senate floor.
The legislation comes amid a continued push by Republicans nationwide to make it harder to vote amid lingering fallout from the 2020 election.
What do opponents say about the bill?
Voting rights advocates and Democrats have denounced the bill as a form of voter suppression and intimidation.
“We know voter fraud is extremely rare. So I just don’t understand why we are going to be taking our taxpayer money and creating this police force,” Democratic state Sen. Lori Berman said last Friday ahead of the bill’s passage in the state Senate.
Berman, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections, also argued that the new force would lack “guardrails” and worries it could be used against political opponents.
“No voter should have to factor the likelihood of getting investigated into their calculation of whether and how to vote. No one should face felony prosecution for helping three friends by taking their ballots to the post office,” Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for Common Cause, said in a statement in late February. “Our ‘government by the people’ is stronger and more representative when more people vote.”
What will happen after the bill is passed?
The bill is expected to be signed into law by DeSantis and much of it will go into effect immediately.